Monday, 24 February 2020

Current Netflix Top Picks #13

It's been quite a long time since my last Netflix recommendations but at the moment they are smashing it with shows you could easily binge-watch in one sitting! I love finding TV shows that you can just get so invested in and want to watch episode after episode and without a doubt all of the shows I'm about to mention today are perfect examples of that.
collage - Netflix logo, The Stranger poster, Living With Yourself poster, AJ & The Queen poster, Wanderlust poster, Spinning Out poster

The Stranger

It's the show everyone is talking about at the moment and rightly so. I just want everyone to watch this! If this has somehow passed you by, it all starts with a stranger who makes a shocking claim to family man Adam Price, about his wife. Within seconds she manages to plant seeds of doubt in his mind and he's left wondering if he ever really knew his wife at all. He's desperate for answers as are many other people who the 'stranger' has targeted. Based on the novel of the same name by Harlan Coben, The Stranger is one of those shows that once you start it, you won't be able to stop. It's a thriller that will keep you guessing until the end. I honestly think it's one of the best shows that has ever been on Netflix, I was hooked.

Living With Yourself

Another series which I got through quite quickly is Living With Yourself starring Paul Rudd. It's an American comedy about a man who is pretty tired with life and stuck in a rut so undergoes a mystery treatment that promises him a better life, but actually he's been replaced with a cloned version of himself. It's a completely mad concept but the episodes are short, snappy and funny so it's easy to just keep going and going with it. I think Paul Rudd is brilliant in everything so it's no surprise this has done well. I'm really intrigued to see where they take it if there's another series.

AJ & The Queen

If you need a bit of sparkle and sass in your life, AJ & The Queen is the perfect show to turn to. Starring the fabulous RuPaul, it follows Robert, a down-on-his-luck drag queen who performs under the name Ruby Red and is preparing for a tour across America. Unbeknown to Robert at first though is that someone else is joining him. A 10 year old stowaway AJ. An unlikely bond forms on the journey and they realise they may have both needed each other more than they could have ever envisioned. It's got its heartfelt moments but it's also so funny. You can't help but like RuPaul can you? Another great series to get stuck into.

Wanderlust

I actually watched Wanderlust when it was originally on BBC a few years ago but it's now been added to Netflix and I thoroughly enjoyed re-watching it all again recently. Starring Toni Collette, it's about a therapist trying to find a way to keep the spark alive with her husband Alan after an accident causes her to reassess where she's at in her life and her relationships with people. It looks at whether lifelong monogamy is possible and actually desirable and we see how different stories of love, lust and forbidden desire emerge not just from Joy and Alan but also their family, friends, neighbours and more. It's quite an out there show I think with the topic it's based around but it's just SO good. Really relatable characters and I think Toni and Steven Mackintosh who plays Alan were just perfect casting.

Spinning Out

One final series which I ended up watching in a matter of days is Spinning Out which has 100% not received the attention it deserved. Starring Kaya Scodelario, she plays Kat Baker, a solo skater who is ready to give up after a fall takes her out of a competition until she's given a second chance when paired with bad boy Justin. With her own demons to face though, can they really overcome everything to realise their Olympic dreams? Unfortunately this hasn't been renewed for a second series and it was left on a bit of a cliffhanger which is always annoying but I still recommend giving it a watch. The cast are excellent and it's just something different to all the other binge-worthy shows on Netflix at the moment.

Have you watched any of the shows I've mentioned?

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Thursday, 20 February 2020

5 Things To Know About The Harry Potter Studios Tour

I've spoken before on my blog about I kind of dread my birthday so it's safe to say when my 25th was looming, I was not best pleased. I knew I wanted to do something special because 1. I wanted to actually be able to look forward to it as it got closer and 2. It's a big birthday! I wanted to be able to look back one day and feel like I really celebrated it. For my 25th we booked a trip to London and aswell as seeing Les Miserables, we also did the Harry Potter Tour and I can honestly say it was worth every penny. I am so happy with what we decided on and as George's birthday was also in January, it felt like we both got to really celebrate together and there was something for both of us during our little break. 
Harry Potter studio tour entrance
I've been meaning to write up a review of the studio tour since we got back but as we're now almost two months on, clearly I haven't but recently an idea came to me that instead of doing a detailed review and essentially giving away everything that's included in the tour, why not do something a little different. Before we went I didn't really know what to expect, I'm a huge Harry Potter fan so I'd have been pleased regardless I'm sure but I did have a few questions so if you're hoping to visit one day, hopefully this will give you a little insight and answer any questions you may have about it without spoiling the experience.
The great hall at the Harry Potter studio tour

What Is There To See?

Well, pretty much EVERYTHING you see in the films. It's unreal how realistic the sets are and it's crazy to see just how much detail was put into every single costume, set and more throughout the years. To start you see Harry's room under the stairs and you're then taken into a cinema like room to watch a short video from the cast on how the tour works, what sorts of things you'll see, when you can stop for breaks etc. It's all really clear from the beginning which is useful. You then properly start at the Great Hall and if you're lucky you might get a chance to open the doors yourself. Walking into the hall after watching the films repeatedly was just so special. It was actually Hogwarts In The Snow when we went so there were still Christmas trees up and it was set out like it would be for Christmas in the films so that only added an extra magical element to it for me as I've spoken many, many, MANY times before about how much Christmas is my favourite time of year. You then follow the tour round to see the common room, Dumbledore's office, the potion room, Diagon Alley, Platform 9 3/4, Privet Drive, Gringotts Bank and more. Everything you could possible remember from the books and films is there. 
Hogwarts in the snow at Harry Potter studio tour

How Long Is The Tour?

As stated on the official Warner Brother Studio Tour website, it's expected to last around 3 and a half hours though there's no time limit. Our tour was booked for 2pm and we finished around 5pm and that was with a stop halfway round for food and drink so I'd say 3 and a half hours is accurate. There is obviously a lot of walking involved which is something to be prepared for but there are benches everywhere so plenty of opportunity to stop if you need to and as I'm about to get onto, there are several opportunities to sit for food and drink.
Dumbledores Office at the Harry Potter studio tour

What are the food & drink options?

As soon as you arrive and have had your tickets checked, you are greeted by The Chocolate Frog Cafe. This is right by the entrance and exit so it means you can go either before or after the tour. As we had time spare before our 2pm tour, we stopped here and had some of the most delicious baked goods I've ever had in my life. And trust me, I've tried a lot of baked goods. At the Chocolate Frog Cafe you'll find ice cream, milkshakes, hot drinks, cupcakes, brownies, cookies and more. We tried one of their brownie bars which I can still taste if I think about it and also a marshmallow cookie pie which was uber sweet. We may have also stopped off at the end of the tour for ice cream and god that was good. Next to the Chocolate Frog Cafe aswell is the Hub Cafe which is essentially a Starbucks so another useful option if you want to grab a drink before or after the tour. Also in this area is The Food Hall which serves breakfast, hot food, sandwiches and more. Finally, let's talk about the Backlot Cafe which is located halfway round the tour. This is the ideal time to stop for a break and here you'll find an array of hot and cold food aswell as a stand for the famous Butterbeer. Even better, it can all be enjoyed with a view of the Knight Bus, Privet Drive and the Hogwarts Bridge. There are so many options for food and drink at the Studio Tour and I'd definitely recommend treating yourself to something at some point during the day.
The Chocolate Frog Cafe at the Harry Potter studio tour
Butterbeer at the Harry Potter studio tour

Can it be done on a budget?

If you're willing to skip the food hall and gift shops, it can definitely be done on a budget. Bear in mind, the ticket prices aren't cheap at around £45 each but once you're there, you're under no obligation to buy anything. The prices for food and drink aren't extortionate but you could definitely save money by taking your own to enjoy halfway round the tour where there's the opportunity to relax for as long as you want. I also wouldn't say there's anything in the gift shops that you couldn't find elsewhere but obviously because it's the official tour, the prices are more than you'd pay anywhere else.
Inside of privet drive at the Harry Potter studio tour
Ministry of magic at the Harry Potter studio tour

Is it worth it?

YES. 100%. If you're a Harry Potter fan, you will absolutely love it. Even if you're not the biggest fan ever, you learn so much and it's just utterly magical to see all of the sets there right in front of you. From the moment you enter, you feel like you're part of the Harry Potter world and as you go from room to room, it just gets better and better. Aswell as seeing the sets and costumes, there's also opportunities to see how the special effects work, there are videos all the way round from an array of people who worked on the films explaining how they brought the magic to life and there's several photo opportunities throughout. I honestly couldn't recommend the tour enough. My personal highlight was probably Gringotts Bank, it genuinely took my breath away when I walked around the corner and saw it, it's just unreal the detail that has gone into it! It's all mindblowing though and just such a special experience.
Hogwarts Express at the Harry Potter studio tour
Gringotts Bank at the Harry potter studio tour
Hogwarts in the snow at Harry Potter studio tour
I hope if you're planning a visit to the Harry Potter Studios Tour or if you're just a fan of the books and films, that this has been useful! If you've been before, let me know what you thought of it. I'm already hoping to get another visit in one day.

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Tuesday, 18 February 2020

My Triple Chocolate Brownies Recipe

Maybe one day I'll stop posting brownie recipes but I don't think it will be for a little while yet. They're probably my all time fave baked item and I just enjoy making them so much. I find it therapeutic to be honest and now I've made such a variety of brownies, I know they'll always turn out okay so I sort of feel I can experiment a bit more now with different flavours and ingredients so that's why there's been so many variations over the last few months. In case you somehow haven't seen, I've shared recipes for Bourbon brick brownies, Lotus Biscoff brownies, After Eight brownies, Oreo brownies and finally Jaffa Cake brownies so if any of those take your fancy, feel free to try and let me know how you found them! Anyway, out of all the brownie recipes I've shared, this is the most basic but sometimes a simple bake is the best and let's face it, anything with triple chocolate in the name is always going to be good isn't it?
triple chocolate brownies stacked on heart shaped chopping board
Ingredients:
100g butter
200g golden caster sugar
300g dark chocolate, broken into chunks
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
100g plain flour
100g milk chocolate, broken into chunks
100g white chocolate, broken into chunks

Method:
1. Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees (160 fan) and grease and line a large square baking tin
2. Put your butter and sugar into a large saucepan and warm over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has completely melted
3. Take the saucepan off the heat and add in 200g of your dark chocolate, stirring until it's completely melted
4. Add in your vanilla extract and mix
5. Add in your 2 eggs, then using an electric whisk, whisk until you have a thick velvety mixture
6. Sift in your flour then fold in until fully combined
7. Add in your remaining 100g of dark chocolate chunks, along with 100g of milk chocolate chunks and 100g of white chocolate chunks before giving one final thorough mix
9. Pour your brownie batter in your prepared tin and bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes
10. When a skewer inserted comes out clean, your brownies are done! Leave to cool in the tin then remove and cut into squares
tray of triple chocolate brownies
triple chocolate brownie held up over tray of brownies
This recipe will make at least 16 brownies and decent sized ones too so great for anyone with a sweet tooth. As these have so much chocolate in, they are very sweet but still incredibly moreish and they last so well. You should get at least 3-4 days out of these, if you don't eat them all fresh out of the oven which is always tempting!

Are you a fan of chocolate brownies?

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Monday, 17 February 2020

The Books On My Current To Be Read List

It's been a long time since I last spoke about the books on my to be read list. In fact I think I've only ever done one of these posts before and last year as I was reading books so quickly, there was just never any point as I'd have ended up reading all of the books on the list before it was even live! I have slowed down with reading quite a lot in 2020 so far, well at least compared to last year so that does mean I have quite a few books sat waiting for me. I was also lucky enough to win a 6 book giveaway just after Christmas so that's only meant I've got far more than usual ready to go. So, here are the books on my current to be read list. I'd love to hear your thoughts if you've read any of them!
flatlay of various books

The Librarian Of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

'Fourteen year old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezin ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious books the prisoners have managed to smuggle past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the secret librarian of Auschwitz, responsible for the safekeeping of the small collection of titles, as well as the 'living books' - prisoners of Auschwitz who know certain books so well, they too can be 'borrowed' to educate the children in the camp. But books are extremely dangerous. They make people think. And nowhere are they more dangerous than in Block 31 of Auschwitz, the children's block, where the slightest transgression can result in execution, no matter how young the trangressor...'

I'm surprised I've not read this yet actually as I got it for my birthday at the start of January and I'm always fascinated by anything to do with Auschwitz. I'm not sure fascinated is the right word but I find books like this incredibly interesting and whilst some out there are sensationalised and not 'true' accounts, I always come away feeling like I've learnt something. It's a subject that I was always wanting to know more about when I was in school and it's looking like this year will finally be the year we get to visit the Auschwitz tour in Krakow so I'm finding myself drawn to books of this nature more and more.
The Librarian Of Auschwitz book

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

'You've been offered a luxury apartment, rent free. The catch: you may not live long enough to enjoy it... No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents. These are the only rules for Jules Larson's new job as an apartment sitter for an elusive resident of the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan's most high-profile private buildings and home to the super rich and famous. Recently heartbroken and practically homeless, Jules accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind. Out of place among the extremely wealthy, Jules finds herself pulled toward other apartment sitter Ingrid. But Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her. Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story - but the next day, her new friend has vanished. And then Jules discovered that Ingrid is not the first temporary resident to go missing.'

I'm really intrigued by this! Whilst I'm a huge thriller fan, I don't necessarily think this is a book I'd have picked up myself so I'm really glad this was one of the books in the giveaway I won. It sounds like it's going to be creepy, suspenseful and full of secrets. I honestly have no idea where it could go so I think I'm going to have to start this one soon.
Lock Every Door on gold background

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

'All Lina wanted was to be desired. How did she end up in a marriage with two children and a husband who wouldn't touch her? All Maggie wanted was to be understood. How did she end up in a relationship with her teacher and then in court, a hated pariah in her small town? All Sloane wanted was to be admired. How did she end up a sexual object of men, including her husband, who liked to watched her have sex with other men and women? Three Women is a record of unmet needs, unspoken thoughts, disappointments, hopes and unrelenting obsession.'

This is another book I won in a giveaway and I really don't think it's one I'd have ever picked up myself. It doesn't really fit in with genres I usually read but the synopsis has me so intrigued. I don't really feel much has been given away about the book at all so I'm going into this with no idea what's to come but I'm definitely intrigued!
Three Women held up in front of books

The Wives by Lauren Weisberger

'Perfect marriages. Perfect neighbours. Perfect lies. Everyone is guarding a secret in this picture-perfect town. When Karolina Hartwell is arrested driving her son home, the headlines don't tell the full story. It seems nothing will stand in the way of her husband Graham's political ambition - not even his wife. Miriam Kagan is convinced her husband Paul is hiding something. But if she digs too deeply, she's afraid of what might tumble out of the closet. Emily Charlton is new to Greenwich, but she soon discovers this is a small town built on big lies. And sometimes it takes an outsider to draw them out...'

First of all, I absolutely love the cover of this. I know we all say we shouldn't judge a book by it's cover, but that's the thing that's going to draw you in. I love that this stands out but doesn't give much away. I've not read anything by Lauren Weisberger before but she did write The Devil Wears Prada and I love that film so I can see this being my sort of story. I also get Big Little Lies vibes from it too and I think I've made it clear how much I loved that book and the TV series.
The Wives book on gold background

Unnatural Causes by Dr Richard Shepherd

'Meet the forensic pathologist, Dr Richard Shepherd. He solves the mysteries of unexplained or sudden death. He has performed over 23,000 autopsies, including some of the most high-profile cases of recent times; the Hungerford Massacre, the Princess Diana inquiry, and 9/11. He has faced serial killers, natural disaster, 'perfect murders' and freak accidents. His evidence has put killers behind bars, freed the innocent, and turned open-and-shut cases on their heads. Yet all of this has come at a huge personal cost. Unnatural Causes tells the story of not only the cases and bodies that have haunted him the most, but also how to live a life steeped in death.'

I don't normally like anything too medical which is why I think I didn't particularly get the hype with This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay but Unnatural Causes has been on my list for absolutely ages. I read the synopsis ages ago and was fascinated by it so I'm really excited to get started on this. I do think it'll end up being one of those books though that I either love and really get on with or hate just because it's not a style I tend to read often.
Unnatural Causes on top of other books

The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

'Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career. Summoned to Evelyn's luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the 80s, and of course the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn's story nears its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique's own in tragic and irreversible ways.'

I always get this confused with The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle! Another book that is waiting on the bookshelf to be read actually but I'm not in a rush to start it. Back to this though, again it's not a book I'd normally pick up but I've only seen positive things about it online so I'm definitely keen to see what all the fuss is about.
The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo
I've just managed to get through quite a few books on my kindle so I'm ready to get started on these now and I can't wait! I'd love to know if you've read any of these? and if so, what did you think?

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Wednesday, 12 February 2020

6 Self Care Habits I'm Introducing In 2020

Self care. We all know what it is and we've all seen a spike in people talking about it and spreading awareness on the importance of it but is it something I'm actually that great at? Not really. I've spoken about how I self care in the past on my blog and it's not that I don't at all anymore, but I seem to have stopped setting time aside for it. This year I want to get back to finding time each week to indulge in some self care and whilst I'll still definitely be doing things I've listed before - reading books, having a pamper hour, cooking and even just resting, I actually have a few new habits I want to introduce in 2020. Self care isn't all bubble baths, face masks and chocolate (though they do help) for me a lot of it is about mental wellbeing too so here are 6 habits I'm adding this year that I think will have a positive impact in several areas of my life.
flatlay on pink background. Variety of products scattered including the body shop cleansing butter, ghost perfume, patisserie de bain shower gel and hand cream, all that jazz glitter nail polish and the body shop bear body yoghurt

Practise Mindfulness

I actually don't know a huge deal about mindfulness but whenever I've heard anybody talk about it, it's only ever been in a positive way. It's a great tool for clearing your mind and re-connecting with yourself and it's something you can practise in 5 minute sessions or longer depending on your preference, but even just those few minutes can do a world of good. Focused relaxation where you literally just lie or sit back and close your eyes, allows for you to pay attention to your thoughts and feelings for that period of time and whilst it might sound a bit hippy dippy or too out there, it can literally change your life. It's only something I've tried once or twice in the past but given the positive impact it has on so many, I really think it could help me massively and be a great tool for times when I'm struggling or feeling low.

Drink More Water

I know this should probably be a given but I'm really bad with just basic self care sometimes and that to me is just as important as any other kind of self care. When I'm feeling low or struggling with my anxiety, all self care goes out the window and I become a bit of a mess. I don't want to cook, I eat all the chocolate, I shut myself away and I generally just don't look after myself. Really regardless of whether I'm having a tough few weeks or not, I just want to look after myself a little more this year. Surprise surprise, when I eat well and drink lots of water, all that jazz, I feel so much better and I look it. I feel more comfortable, my skin is clearer and my hair looks healthier so this year I'm determined to better with it. I don't think the fact I'm a bit of a pop fiend helps though so that's definitely something I need to work on.

Put Myself First More

Maybe this is going to come across as selfish or like I think I'm this amazing person, I'm really not but for a long, long time I've put others first, in pretty much every situation and I've just kind of had enough. I like to think I'm a nice person so I'm always going to want to go the extra mile for someone or do something kind for no reason but often I find I'm thinking too much about other people and allowing myself get put to the bottom of the list time and time again. I'm tired of worrying about people who I know don't give me a second thought. I'm tired of trying to second guess and understand some people's actions. I'm tired of putting my all in with people to get nothing back. I'm tired of doing nice thing after nice thing for people and not even getting a thanks. Maybe that does come across a little bitchy, maybe it does make me a little selfish but I need to start putting myself first. That's not to say I'm never going to do nice things for people again or anything like that, I like to do the things I do, but I'm not going to make some people a priority anymore over myself when it's just never appreciated.

Spend Less Time On My Phone

I seriously need to get better at putting my phone down and leaving it be. I've said before that reducing my screen time really helps when it comes to sleep so why can't I ever stick to it? It's just so easy to scroll and scroll but with that comes comparison and all those other wonderful thoughts so more often than not, I find social media can be a negative rather than positive. I am on the whole much better in the respect than when I'm at a loss at what to do or if I'm having a pamper hour in the bath, I'll read instead, I'm always picking up a book when I can now but I'm still on my phone far too much. I want to get back to switching it off an hour before bed as that always helps me sleep better and generally I just want to give it less thought. What's going to happen if I don't go on Instagram for a few hours? Absolutely nothing but mentally I'll feel better.

Get Out More

Because of my anxiety, there's been periods where I've not left the house for weeks. There's been times where I genuinely haven't been able to remember the last time I got fresh air but luckily as I'm in a much better place now with the social aspect of my anxiety, that hasn't happened for a long time. I'm actually really proud of myself and how far I've come with my anxiety as whilst I still need to do some serious work on my health anxiety, I feel I've come on leaps and bounds in other areas. I don't think working from home has helped in the past as it's been the perfect excuse to stay in but now we've got Bear, he's been my motivation to get out each day - boy needs his walks. I just feel like since we got him, I've started seeing life in a different way and he's made me so much more confident. There isn't often a day goes by now where I don't want to get out of the house which in the past would never have happened and each weekend now I'm wanting to explore somewhere new or go on a date night or book a trip, I just want to do it all. Just an hour of fresh air makes me feel so refreshed and clears my mind and that to me is self care. It makes me feel 10x better so whilst I'll always love coming home and being in my little haven, I want to continue pushing myself in this area.

Allow Myself To Feel

Deep I know. Very deep in fact but this is something I'm really bad at. I used to be quite an emotional person and I cried at pretty much anything and it's not that I'm the complete opposite now but I almost don't allow myself to get too caught up in emotion sometimes and I shut it down before it even really gets going. Does that make sense? Probably not. It's a hard one to explain but more often than not, if I feel I'm going to cry, I'm usually like 'nope, not happening' within seconds and I don't just allow it to happen. It's not like I never get tearful but sometimes you just need a big old sob and I tend to stop myself before I can get it all out meaning it all ends up just building and building which isn't good for anyone. I don't like being sad but I think when I'm feeling a certain way, I need to try and embrace it. If I need to cry, I want to let myself rather than sneaking a tear or two and brushing it under the carpet. If I need to talk, I want to allow myself to open up rather than thinking I'm being dramatic or too much or annoying. At the same time when I'm happy, I want to shout about it. Sometimes when I'm feeling really good or doing something that makes me happy, I feel I should be tame about it and I get embarrassed but I don't want to anymore. I think anxiety has a big part to play in why I feel things so intensely and that has it's pros and cons but whatever I'm feeling, I just want to allow myself to be in it for a while.

What do you do to self care? Can you relate to any of the habits I've mentioned?

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Monday, 10 February 2020

My Coffee Cake With Caramel Buttercream Recipe

I've been sharing lots of baking recipes over the last few months and whilst they've mainly been brownie recipes (I can't get enough) I did share these delish Mini Egg Cookie Slices too just a few weeks ago. Today I'm all about the cake though! Coffee cake in fact, something I'd never made before. I've shared various cake recipes in the past but until this I'd not actually made one in a long time so it's safe to say, it ended up a little rustic. I'm my own worst critic so all I see is rough edges and not the neatest looking buttercream but so many people have been lovely about it and most importantly of all, it tasted good so I think I can give myself a little pat on the back.
Coffee cake with caramel buttercream, topped with salted caramel fudge pieces on heart chopping board
I'm not actually a big fan of coffee unless it's a festive gingerbread latte topped with a heap of cream so a coffee cake wouldn't usually be my first choice but for George's birthday this year I wanted to challenge myself. I've made chocolate cakes over and over again and whilst they're great, for me this year is all about pushing myself with baking and really trying to improve in every area possible. As I'd never made a coffee cake before, I turned to my trusty Jo Wheatley recipe books. I followed her recipe for the sponge and then I improvised with the buttercream which actually went better than I expected, though my presentation skills are lacking. Anyway, here's the recipe if you want to give it a try too.

Ingredients: cake
200g butter
200g caster sugar
4 eggs, beaten
220g self-raising flour
1 tbsp of instant coffee mixed with 25ml of boiling water

Ingredients: caramel buttercream
200g butter
400g icing sugar
1 tbsp milk
1 tsp caramel essence

Method:
1. Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees (160 fan) and grease and line two cake tins
2. First of all for your cake, beat together your butter and sugar until light and creamy
3. If you haven't already, beat your 4 eggs in a separate bowl then slowly pour into your butter and sugar mix, stirring as you go
4. When the eggs are fully incorporated, sift in your self-raising flour and mix until combined
5. Now add in your cooled 25ml of coffee and give the batter one final mix, ensuring everything is combined
6. Evenly divide your cake mix between the two tins and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes. After this amount of time, a skewer inserted should come out clean and they should look golden on top
7. Remove from the oven and cake tins and allow to cool on a wire rack
8. While the cakes are cooling, you can prepare your buttercream. In a clean bowl, add your butter, icing sugar, 1 tbsp of milk and 1 tsp of caramel essence and whip until light and fluffy. If you find the mixture is too stiff, add in an extra tbsp of milk. Also, beware that the icing sugar will go everywhere when you mix!
9. When your cakes are completely cool, you can start to decorate. You could just spread on the buttercream but if you want to be a bit fancy, put it into a piping bag and pipe in the middle and on top of the cakes. I then topped the middle of the cake with lots of salted caramel fudge but this is optional
Closeup of coffee cake on heart chopping board
And that's the finished coffee cake! A moist, subtle coffee flavoured sponge, filled and topped with a sweet caramel buttercream and finished with chunks of fudge. The 25ml of coffee is great if like me you're not a huge coffee fan as it's only subtle and not overpowering but it's enough for coffee lovers to be able to tell it is actually a coffee cake! You could of course make a coffee buttercream too or stick to vanilla, but I just fancied adding caramel this time which added a lovely sweetness to the whole thing.

For my first attempt at a coffee cake, I'm actually pretty happy with it looking back and I definitely think I'll be making it again. Are you a coffee cake fan?

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Saturday, 8 February 2020

The Perfect Valentine's Night In With Moonpig*

I'm someone who always likes to have something to look forward to. Once Christmas is out of the way and I've had my week or so of mourning, seriously it's the best time of year, let me grieve, we have both mine and George's birthdays in January which is always a fun way to start the year so after that it's all about Valentine's Day for me. This year is our 9th Valentine's Day together! I know to some people it's just another day and I agree that you should show your partner you love them every day if you can but it's nice to have an excuse to really spoil them isn't it? That being said, we don't go mad about it. A cute card, a few presents and a homemade meal are about all we stretch to nowadays but I like it that way and if you're planning a cosy night in too, well Moonpig have got you covered.
flatlay - lindt chocolates, date night jar, date night dice, perfect partners game, truffles
I'm a long time fan of Moonpig and I turn to them at various points throughout the year. Not only are they great for personalised cards, presents, flowers and more but they're always on hand if you've left someone's birthday until the last minute and need speedy delivery! As I've shopped with Moonpig so much in the past, I was thrilled when I was asked if I'd like to share some of their Valentine's gifts this year. They kindly sent over a selection of gifts ideal for a romantic night in and I also chose a few bits for George I to enjoy so let's get started. 

First of all, it's not Valentine's day without chocolates is it? George and I don't get each other loads for Valentine's as whilst we like to celebrate it, it is only one day and I don't think it's a time you need to spend loads of money, but you can guarantee chocolate will be bought. Moonpig have a great selection when it comes to foodie gifts from sweet jars (ideal for sweet fiends like me), to personalised Cadbury bars, Lindt and Guylian chocolate boxes, prosecco and truffles hampers and even cocktail hampers. There is so much choice and a lot of it is currently on offer too so you've still got time to grab a bargain. I personally love their fizz & chocolates gifts which include a mini bottle of prosecco or wine and a generous bag of divine chocolate truffles for around £15. 
Small bottle of rose and lindt chocolates
If you don't want to head straight to sticking a film on after your romantic meal in, which tends to be what we do, why not try out one of Moonpig's many games? One suggestion is Perfect Partners which is a steal at £12 given how expensive board games tend to be now. How well do you know your nearest and dearest? Well Perfect Partners puts you both to the test in this game of love, friendship and blushes. There are loads of other novelty gifts available too though including activity books, scratch off bucket lists and even date night cards and ideas. I love the Date Night Money Jar and Dice which allows for you to save up for your special evenings together and gives you loads of ideas on where to go or what to do. Going to the same sorts of places each month can get a little boring so this has all the inspiration you could possibly need.
Perfect partners game
Date Night Ideas Dice held up over flatlay
Finally, let's talk about pampering ourselves and our partners. Yes, both men and women are privy to luxurious beauty & skincare products so why not treat them to something they can really indulge with? For women, Moonpig have a variety of bath bombs, candles and lotions and for men, you'll find Scottish Fine Soaps gift sets, hair kits and even beard oils. A present that caught my eye though is the You Melt My Heart Gift Set which includes a huge bath fizzer, lip balm and cooling eye pads. Everything you could want or need for a Valentine's pamper.
Scottish Fine Soap men's gift set
Heart shaped bath bomb, cooling eye masks and lip balm
There really is so much choice when it comes to shopping for Valentine's with Moonpig and they can cater to pretty much every part of your romantic night in. We can't forget cards though. To me, cards are more important than presents as you can really tell someone how you feel and they can be kept forever. George and I still have a stash of cards from our first few years together and it's a lovely keepsake. You can choose whether to personalise with photos or text and you'll find anything from cute cards to funny, rude to sentimental. They have it all and for really affordable prices too.
101 dalmations valentines card
I hope if you're still in need of some Valentine's inspiration that this has been helpful! I often find with events like this it can be hard to know how much to spend and what to get that hasn't been done before but Moonpig really have pulled it out of the bag this year so you're sure to find something your partner, friend or anyone else you fancy treating, will love. Whether you have a weekend away planned, a romantic meal or a relaxing night in, Moonpig just want to show that 'Heartfelt can happen anywhere'.

Have you got anything planned for Valentine's Day?

*This post is in collaboration with Moonpig and all items have been gifted

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Friday, 7 February 2020

My February To-Do List

THANK GOD JANUARY IS OVER! I know January always drags after all the excitement of Christmas but that was a joke, it felt never ending. January ended up being a pretty good month so whilst it dragged, there are some moments I'm sad are over. We had an amazing time in London seeing Les Miserables and visiting the Harry Potter tour (I will finally get my review up soon) and we had a lovely weekend celebrating George's birthday too including the most delicious meal at Miller and Carter. After having some exciting things in January, February feels a bit dull so I wasn't actually sure whether to make these to-do lists a regular thing or just share when I feel I've got a bit more on but each month doesn't have to be jam packed does it? It's nice to share the normal things too so here's what I've got planned for the next few weeks.
The Shard, London

Celebrate Bear's 1st Birthday

The biggest thing happening this month is that Bear is turning 1 next week! I'm not sure I'm emotionally prepared. I just can't get my head around how fast the last 12 months have gone after genuinely longing for a dog of our own for years. I absolutely adore him and he's grown into the most amazing dog but my heart does pine for those cuddles we had when he was just 3 weeks old. He was basically the size of my hand and now he's Mr independent. I just can't wait to spoil him though. He's already got so many toys but of course he's getting more, we've got lots of new treats and I've even bought doggy cupcakes which I'm sure he's going to love. We're also going to have a day at the beach which I can't wait for. I know some people might think all of that sounds over the top but I genuinely don't care, he is my world and I've waited such a long time for things like this.

Take Blog Photos

It's been a long, long time since I sat down in my office and got a bulk of blog photos taken. In fact, I can't even remember when I last did that so I'm now in serious need of more. My Instagram has become more of a personal one now rather than strictly blogging so flatlays aren't all I post anymore, I share lots more 'real life' now and I do prefer it that way. That being said I do want to get back to posting more beauty content and I have quite a few products I've been wanting to share for a while so I need a few hours soon, hidden away in the office to get as many taken as I can. I love having loads ready to post rather than having to scramble something quickly when I've not posted for a while and I feel like it's always obvious when you're posting for the sake of it.

Read 8 Books

To hit my reading goal of 100 books this year I ideally need to be reading at least 8 books a month. In January I managed 7 so I'm just about on track though I did feel at times it was a slog. I think last year because I aimed quite low (for me) I didn't really feel any pressure whereas because I'm aiming high this year I have an idea of what I need to read each week to get there. I've thought a few times that maybe last year was just a fluke and it it was then it was, whilst I would love to read as many books again in 2020, I'm not going to force it. Reading's supposed to be enjoyable and some months are always going to be slower than others so whilst I would like to power through quite a few this month, if I don't manage it then I'm not going to be hard on myself.

Continue With Easter Baking

I know we have plenty of time until Easter but I have so many ideas for baking! I've already shared a recipe for Mini Egg cookie slices which seriously I can't stop thinking about, I'm so excited to make them again and this week I want to make some creme egg brownies. I feel like I've got the perfect basic brownie recipe now so I'm hoping they'll turn out well. I can taste them already.

Clear Out My Wardrobe

My wardrobe is full and I mean jam packed with clothes I haven't worn in years. I've been meaning to have a sort out for months and I've just not got round to it but this month I'm determined to get it done. There's stuff that doesn't fit anymore, stuff that no longer suits me, stuff I've actually never even worn so it's all going to a charity shop and I'm finally getting my wardrobe in order. It's one of those tasks that I know as soon as I start it, I'll wish I hadn't but it needs doing.

Have you got much planned for February?

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Wednesday, 5 February 2020

People Like Us By Louise Fein Book Review*

I said in my 2020 blogging goals that I wanted to share more book reviews this year after drifting away from them last year, despite reading so many books. I've already shared my thoughts on Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty but today I'm reviewing a book that couldn't be any more different, People Like Us by Louise Fein.
People Like Us by Louise Fein book held up in front of bookshelf
'I nearly drowned and Walter rescued me. That changes everything.

Leipzig, 1930's Germany. Hetty Heinrich is a perfect German child. Her father is an SS officer, her brother in the Luftwaffe, herself a member of the BDM. She believes resolutely in her country, and the man who runs it. Until Walter changes everything. Blond-haired, blue-eyed, perfect in every way Walter. The boy who saved her life. A jew. Antisemitism is growing by the day, and neighbours, friends and family members are turning on one another. As Hetty falls deeper in love with a man who is against all she has been taught, she begins to fight against her country, her family and herself. Hetty will have to risk everything to save Walter, even if it means sacrificing herself...'

My review

After being utterly captivated by The Tattooist Of Auschwitz at the start of 2019, I was thrilled when I was asked if I'd like to receive a copy of Louise Fein's newest novel, People Like Us. People Like Us is an immersive, heartbreaking tale set in the 1930's during Nazi Germany and it's actually inspired by the authors family history and the alarming parallels Louise has found between those times and present day. With any book centered around this time, I think it's important to be respectful and careful in how you approach the subject but Louise has written this in such a beautiful and passionate way. Clearly meticulous research has gone into this and like with any book I've read so far around WWII, Nazi Germany and Auschwitz, I felt like I was learning more and more as I went along.

The story is told the through the eyes of teenager Hetty, a bold young woman with dreams and aspirations of her own, but who at the start has been drawn into this world where hatred of Jews is normal and adoration of Hitler is expected. As she gets a little older though and grows closer and closer to her friend Walter, who happens to be jewish, she has to decide between what is 'right' in the eyes of her country or what she feels. I thought Louise portrayed Hetty's struggle brilliantly. She's a young girl falling in love but how do you begin to dissociate yourself with all that you know? I really felt for her and many times wondered how she could possible get her happy ending, and whether she does or not, I won't spoil, but I could sense her turmoil. I also couldn't help but feel devastated for Walter and his family and all that they were going through. It's inconceivable to me how people were ever treated this way but we all know they were and I think Louise told the story in the most sensitive way she could.

Whilst not every character was as likeable as Hetty and Walter, each person felt a vital part of the book. Everyone was relevant, had their own story and added to Hetty's dilemma over her future. It did of course show though just how different opinions can be and how easy it is for people to get swept up in hatred rather than taking a stand and sticking up for those who aren't able to do it themselves, something that made me understand why Louise felt there were similarities between then and now.

I really don't want to give too much away about People Like Us as I think it's a book everyone should read for themselves but I will say it's heart-wrenching, powerful and a story that shows kindness can still be found even in the worst times. I felt so invested in Hetty and Walter's relationship and despite being aware a happy ending for everyone was unlikely, I was rooting for them right from the beginning. Speaking of the ending, I found it incredibly bittersweet and I might have shed a tear or two so be prepared. It's not always an easy read but it's an important one and I don't think stories like this should ever stop being told.

If you want to read People Like Us by Louise Fein too, it's out May 2020.

Do you think you'll be reading People Like Us this year?

*PR Sample

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Monday, 3 February 2020

My 2020 Blogging Goals

Just a few weeks after I shared my personal goals for 2020 and at the very start of February (I know, I've left it late) it's finally time to talk about the blogging goals I'm setting myself this year! To be honest, they're very similar to what I set myself last year because if you saw my end of year look at my 2019 blogging goals, you'll know they didn't go particularly great. I did my best but blogging wasn't as much of a priority last year so I just didn't even really think about my goals until it was too late! I've started 2020 raring to go with my blog so I'm hoping if I can keep this up throughout the year, I might achieve what I've been hoping to for a while now.
Rivelin Woods, Sheffield

Finally Reach 5000 Twitter Followers

To be honest I don't have the highest hopes ever for this because I'm just not as active on Twitter as I used to be but I would like to finally reach 5000. I find with twitter I go through peaks where I gain followers quite steadily but then it comes to a slow and doesn't really pick up again for weeks so I expect more of the same for 2020 really. I plan to take part in lots more comment threads as they seem to be picking up again a bit more now and I hope twitter chats become more of a thing again as I used to love getting involved in those and that was always a great way to meet other bloggers. If you have any other tips, let me know!

Up My Instagram Game

To be honest, I'm not sure exactly what I mean by this so I probably need to give it some real thought and really work out what I want to do with my Instagram this year, I just know I need a change. My style for photos has stayed the same for a while now and whilst I don't post many flatlay or beauty focused photos anymore, when I do I don't just want it to be the same as two years ago if that makes sense. I want to experiment with new backgrounds, new props and try and get creative with captions. I just overthink and get embarrassed if I ramble on too much, anyone else feel the same? My following has been stagnant for a while now so I'm not setting myself an official goal with that as it's just so unpredictable. I definitely want to keep up with my insta stories though as I really enjoying experimenting with different filters, templates etc and I just generally enjoy posting more on there than my actual feed.

Earn A Regular Income

This feels like a bit of a weird one to share because no one really talks about money when it comes to blogging. Everyone sort of alludes to it at times and we all say that we should be more open about it but then never really do it. I don't really want to share what my income goal is each month but I do want to start being more consistent with what I earn through blogging and it feeling like more of a regular income rather than just phases of doing really well and then a month of nothing. I'm sure I'm not alone in that struggle but when you're having a quieter month it does affect you, or so I find anyway, it makes me feel like I'm not quite good enough so I just want to really push myself this year and hopefully have my best year since being self-employed.

Get Organised & Find A Routine

I used to pride myself on being really organised and in some areas I still am but I've let myself get into such a bad routine with blogging over the last few months. Towards the end of 2019 I ended up leaving my blog posts until the last minute and whilst that probably works for some people, it just stresses me out. I had a good few weeks at the start of 2019 where I got lots of content written up, ready to go but I've quickly slid back into that 'oh I'll just write tomorrow's post in the morning, I've got time' no, I need to stop with that. I generally need to just get back into some sort of 9-5 with it too rather than doing the majority in the evenings as then I really struggle to switch off.

Share More Book Reviews

I finally shared a new book review a few weeks ago and that was Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. When I really started to pick up the pace with reading again in 2018 I shared loads of book reviews but then last year I felt like I was repeating myself all the time so I kind of stopped all together and just did my book roundup posts instead. I'm planning on doing the same in 2020 so I can share each book I've read but I do want to get back into writing reviews of the ones that have really impressed me. I know book reviews aren't everyone's favourites but I just want to write about what makes me happy so when I feel a book is worth shouting about, I will.

So, hopefully this years blogging goals go a bit better than last year but we'll see. I'm not putting too much pressure on myself but I do want to push myself so I'm hoping everything will be achievable.

Have you set yourself any blogging goals?

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